Noah chose to first sort out the pile of sheets on the left, the one having the martial arts.
Balvan sword style, a two-handed sword style created by the Balvan family, balanced in both attack and defense, perfect for soldiers. "Breath" will empower the thrust attack, able to shatter rocks. Rank 1;
Phantom saber style, a one-handed saber style made of peculiar moves hard to defend against, good attack and poor defense. "Breath" can make any of the willing body parts disappear in order to catch your enemy unprepared. Rank 2;
Flow of the sword, a two-handed sword style focused on deflecting your opponent's attack and counterattack at the right time, excellent defense. "Breath" can create a shield of air for a period of time. Rank 2;
Twin saber style, a one-handed saber style wielding two sabers, focused on speed, can defend and attack at the same time. "Breath" will enhance the perforation ability of the sabers allowing the wielder to cut without the need for the blade to touch. Rank 2;
Iron palm style, a weaponless style that uses hands as a weapon, excellent attack and maneuverability to strike. "Breath" will harden the hands of the user making them able to stop blades or release a shockwave to hurt the internal organs of the opponent. The hardening of the hands can be permanent with training. Rank 2.'
Noah fell deep in thought.
"Master, why is there a rank on the side of the arts?"
As if expecting the question, William seriously explained:
"The rank represents the potential of the technique when using the "Breath", it basically defines how strong their effect and destructiveness can be. There is a rank for every technique and magic and there is a rank even for cultivators, but I will explain the cultivator's part once your dantian is formed."
Noah started to think again, looking at the sheets in his hands.
'I guess I can already reject the Balvan sword style since it's rank 1. The iron palm style seems cool, especially for the permanent hardening part, but I got quite familiar with the saber in these years so I should stick with it.'
Saying so, only 2 sheets were left in his hands.
'The Phantom saber style should be where the snake-wrist form came from, so I'm actually advantaged in learning this one, but it feels like it's a killing method against men, will a dragon fell for the invisibility trick?'
Like this, only one sheet remained in Noah's hands.
"I choose the twin saber style as a martial art."
William happily smiled and kept on nodding.
"Good choice, since you need to wield two sabers it will be a bit harder at the beginning, but you will soon understand that it is a style which fits every situation."
Noah shifted his attention to the group of the body-nourishing methods. He didn't notice that the smile on William's face had disappeared, being replaced by a worried expression.
'Mh, maybe I expected too much from a group of methods without the need for a dantian. Every technique seems similar to the Ice-Fire revolving one, they just add some peculiarity like more strength or more speed. At least they are all rank 2 so they should be better than my current one.'
He was almost ready to choose a nourishing method that would enhance his speed when he reached the last sheet.
The worry on William's face grew, as he stared with pleading eyes at the kid in front of him.
'Please don't choose that one. That is not a technique but pure torture.'
He didn't want to put that method in the block from which Noah had to choose but his captain thought differently so he had no choice.
"William, we have to respect his desires. If he gets in the guards and then finds out that we kept that method hidden from him, he might lose trust on us and revolt."
Such were the words his captain said to him the day before.
'Still, I don't think that a kid can understand the kind of pain we are talking about here.'
While William was lost in worry and thoughts, Noah was reading incredulous the rank 3 method in his hands.
'Forging of the Seven Hells, the peak body-nourishment of the ones that do not require a dantian, it equals the methods that require a dantian in terms of power, so if the user survives the treatment he will obtain a rank 3 body capable of blocking rank 1 martial arts and rank 0 magic spells almost without harm. In addition, since it's a body shaped by the "Breath", it will have a better attunement with it, speeding its recovery and its manipulation. The treatment consists of breaking a fixed number of acupoints in a specific place in order to create an absorption vortex that will force the Breath of Heaven and Earth to enter the body and reconstruct the acupoints. Then the man must rest and let the newly acupoints shape and nourish the body for a period of time. Then he must repeat the treatment 6 times. Warning: extremely dangerous, the user must not lose consciousness during the process in order to manipulate the "Breath" or else there might be an error in the reconstruction process causing permanent paralysis or death. Warning: extremely painful'
Raising his head, Noah finally noticed the worried expression of his Master.
"Master, I think that in order to choose properly I have to understand in a better way the difference in ranks between the different arts."
William tried to hide his worry with a slight smile and said:
"Sure. Try to look at it in this way, the more variables you add into one attack the more powerful it is. The weakest of all is the body, which consists only in a strengthening, like reinforcing a wall. Then comes the martial art, which is a mixture of body and "Breath", so of course, its power will be one time and a half higher than the simple body. In the end, there are magic spells, which use a specific element of the "Breath" you accumulate in your dantian mixed with mental energy to create spells, so they will be the most powerful and destructive. Generally speaking, a cultivator's highest rank is the body, while the level of his cultivation and mental energy is pretty similar. For now, just consider the dantian level as a form of fuel: the higher it is, the stronger its effects will be once used for martial arts and spells."
Noah shifted his gaze back to the sheet in his hand.
'The advantages of this technique are pretty awesome, I just don't know if it's worth the risk.'
"How much does it takes for a man with a dantian to obtain a rank 3 body with the orthodox way?"
William hesitated a bit before answering, and then he simply chose to tell the truth.
"If from the beginning a man trains a method for a rank 3 body, without going through methods for rank 1 and 2, it will take between 5 and 15 years."
"What body level am I right now? How much will it take with the orthodox methods once I get a dantian and while training a rank 2 method in the meantime? How much with this technique?"
A tempest of questions came out of Noah's mouth. If he had to risk his life he wanted to make sure that the benefits were way higher than the dangers.
"Right now, your body is below half rank 1, since your body is still growing and you trained in a method without the need of a dantian the results will be lesser if compared with the benefits provided by the techniques of the same rank which instead need a dantian. The same will go for the rank 2 methods below you. If you start training in one now, by the time you get your dantian you will have a body of rank 1 and a half, so to say, and you will probably reach rank 3 in 5-9 years. If you use that torture instead, it might take you between 3 and 5 years to complete the process."
Noah was a bit stupefied. The orthodox method didn't seem too slow at all. He was confident that with his rigid schedule, he would have achieved the rank 3 body in the shortest possible time, wasting about four to five additional years, but also avoiding such an extreme risk of his life.
He was about to reject the idea of going through the Seven Hells technique when he looked at his Master's eyes that seemed filled with shame. Then he thought of something and asked with a bitter smile:
"How hard is to get a proper rank 3 body-nourishing method?"
This time, shame ran through William for being found out. He lowered his head a bit to recover his composure and then said with a soft voice:
"You must enter the inner circle in order to request it."
Still smiling bitterly, Noah handed the sheet to his Master.
"Then I choose the Forging of Seven Hells method."